Sicily

Sicilia / Sicily

  • Capital: Palermo / Palermu
  • Other Large Cities: Catania, Messina / Missina, Syracuse / Sarausa
  • Population: 4,97m (2019)
  • Languages Spoken: Sicilian, Italian

Records

  • CONIFA World Football Cup Result (Men): Not Qualified
  • CONIFA European Football Cup Result (Men): Not Qualified

The island of Sicily / Sicilia is an autonomous Italian region located in the middle of the Mediterranean Sea, and is the largest island within the region. It is located to the south of the Italian Peninsula, and divided from the mainland by the narrow Strait of Messina, with its narrowest point being just 3,1 km between the two coasts. Sicily has a unique culture due to blend from many cultural influences throughout its long and varied history, with Phoenician and Greek foundations, before later being ruled by the Romans, Vandals, Ostrogoths, the Byzantine Empire, the Emirate of Sicily, and the Normans, with the latter creating the County and then Kingdom of Sicily. The Kingdom existed for nearly 700 years before unifying with the Kingdom of Naples to create the Bourbon Kingdom of the Two Sicilies. The island eventually became part of a unified Italy in 1860 following Giuseppe Garibaldi’s Expedition of the Thousand as part of the Risorgimento.

As with most places around the world, football was introduced to Sicily by British merchants, sailors, and dock workers in the late 19th century, with some of the oldest Italian clubs originating from Sicily. However, the most successful clubs on the island naturally originate from Sicily’s three biggest cities – Palermo (Palermu), Catania, and Messina (Missina), with the three clubs having played in the Serie A throughout their history, although they are yet to actually win the Italian championship or the Coppa Italia. Only Palermo have managed to play in European competition, with the Rosanero (named for their unique pink shirts with black trim) playing the UEFA Cup / Europa League throughout the mid 2000s and early 2010s when they were an established Serie A team. They have also achieved the highest league position by a Sicilian club, finishing in 5th position in the 2005-06, 2006-07, and 2009-10 seasons. Catania highest finish was 8th position in the 1960-61, 1964-65, and 2012-13 seasons, whilst Messina finished as high as 7th spot during the 2004-05 season. The 2006-07 season was the last time all three clubs played in the Italian top flight together.

As well as its club representing the island within the Italian football pyramid, Sicily now has its own representative team to help represent the island, and promote its own national identity to a global audience. Following the likes of Padania, Sardinia, and the Two Sicilies team, they are now a member of CONIFA (Confederation of Independent Football Associations), with the Sicilia FA being founded as recently as 2020, and then being accepted as a new member of the organisation in June 2021. The colours of the Naziunali Siciliana home shirt are red and yellow, colours which are taken from the Sicilian flag.

To talk about an island which has a strong and illustrious football history, which has produced multiple players for the Azzuri over the years, and who’s teams have graced Serie A on multiple occasions, is the excellent Anthony Barbagallo from Sicilian Football. It is an English-language website which regularly reports on all things involving football on the island of Sicily, reporting on news originating from the island’s multiple teams. In addition, the website also produces social media graphics for clubs, even designing club shirts and badges, as well as running their own clothing brand and producing Sicilian Football branded merchandise. To find their website and social media accounts, follow the links below:

Q. Who would you say is Sicily’s best player and coach/manager of all-time, and the reasonings behind the choices?

Pietro Anastasi

You could say there several Sicilian greats. Pietro Anastasi who played back in the 60s, 70s, and 80s with Juventus, Inter, and the Azzurri [making 25 appearances and scoring 8 goals for Italy between 1968 and 1975]. A lethal scorer in front of goal, versatile, and intelligent with the ball at his feet. He scored around 78 goals in 205 Juve appearances – very impressive and unique for a Sicilian to become a top and star striker for a northern giant. Also helped Italy win the 1968 European Championships.

Totò Schillaci

The icon of Italia ’90Salvatore “Totò” Schillaci. Another exciting Sicilian striker. He came out of nowhere. Started from Serie C and B with ACR Messina – eventually getting a shot with Juve. Broke out onto the Azzurri scene at the 1990 World Cup. After having doubters from Italy’s north when he made the team, Schillaci later became a national hero. To win the Golden Boot and Golden Ball at the World Cup [scoring six of his seven Italian goals at the tournament], the football pinnacle, is so impressive for a Sicilian footballer. And to know he came from the lower ranks of football is what makes really striking.

For me, it’s pretty much a tie between these players. Both had Azzurri success and played for giant clubs in Serie A. Just different eras.

Other notable mentions could be forward Giuseppe Mascara from Catania – scored some wonder goals throughout his career [scoring 58 goals in 226 appearances for Catania between 2003 and 2011]. He also had a short stint with Napoli later on [playing the 2011-12 season with them].

Claudio Gentile

Claudio Gentile – born in Libya to Sicilian parents- is a legendary defender. A star at Juve [playing 283 games for the Bianconeri between 1973 and 1984], and for the Azzurri [earning 75 caps for the national team from 1975 until 1984]. Best performances at the 1982 World Cup, where he kept Diego Maradona and Zico at bay to go on to win the World Cup. Legendary stuff right there. Also a dark arts defender, very strong and used to man mark, not like the zonal marking these days.

Pasquale Marino

Manager – Sicily hasn’t had too much successful football managers, especially these days. However Carmelo Di Bella– from Catania- used to coach back in the 50s, 60s, 70s. He won the Serie B title with Palermo back on 1968. A prominent Sicilian figure back in those days. A more modern coach is Pasquale Marino. He has coached smaller Sicilian side like Ragusa and Paternò to later coach Catania, Pescara, Spal and many more. In 2005, He successfully guided Catania back to Serie A after 20 years. Really at his prime back in those days. Hasn’t really been as consistent over these years. But he was doing ok with Spal in 2020 in Serie B.

Q. Who could be regarded as a ‘cult hero’ in terms of Sicilian football both in the past and present?

Cult hero has to be Totò Schillaci. Provided hope for young Sicilian footballers to make it to the Serie A and dream for playing for the Azzurri. And what I mentioned previously.

Q. Of the current players, who would you say is the best player playing on, or originating from Sicily currently?

Ernesto Torregrossa

Ernesto Torregrossa is a great talent from San Cataldo, province of Caltanisseta. He had a great 2018-2019 campaign with Brescia in Serie B. Scored numerous goals [13 goals in all competitions] and also provided several assists. A very versatile forward – good poacher, aerial threat on set-pieces and corners, and can score some cracking goals. He was a key player that led Brescia back to Serie A. He now plays with Sampdoria [joining the Genoese club in January 2021]. Had some outstanding games for them last season, but didn’t feature later on due to injury. A fit Torregrossa up front is one to keep an eye on in Serie A, and still 29.

Vincenzo Grifo

Vincenzo Grifo [28-year-old midfielder currently at SC Freiburg] was born Germany- however he has a Sicilian father from the province of Agrigento. Grifo has been a consistent player in the Bundesliga with Hoffenheim and Freiburg. Good from free-kick situations – kind of a specialist – and has excellent vision. He is a technical player, and Roberto Mancini has used him in the Azzurri system before. I just hope he would join a Serie A team to possibly gain more attention in Italy.

Q. Are there any players who you think we should be focusing on for the future – who would you say is the most exciting up & coming talent from the island?

Kevin Biondi

Kevin Biondi from Catania. He plays with Pordenone in Serie B, and he has proven to be a versatile winger with an eye for goal. An exciting dribbler who I have seen grow each season from the Catania days to now playing with a Serie B club, and is still only 22-years-old.

Q. Historically, which Sicilian club has been the most successful, and currently, who are the best team on the island?

Palermo, Catania, ACR Messina, and Trapani. Trapani almost made it to Serie A [in the 2015-16 season when they finished third in the Serie B table but lost to Pescara 3-1 on aggregate in the two-legged play-off final].

There is really no best team at the moment. No Sicilian side is currently playing in either Serie A or B. Palermo, Catania and ACR Messina are all playing in Serie C [with Trapani folding as a club in the 2020-21 Serie C season]. The club management has let down these clubs in recent years, but I can say ASD Giarre are an emerging team coming through the ranks. They are now in Serie D, and are looking for a consecutive promotion to Serie C. They are organised and have a promising squad, and are from the province of Catania.

Q. How would you describe the current state/performance of football on Sicily?

As mentioned previously, club management has been poor. Palermo and Trapani have both folded in these last two years. Catania has almost folded twice. Very dire. But there are some hopes that with Palermo now having new owners, they are looking for promotion from Serie C this season.

Q. Looking at Sicily’s football history, what would you say has been the best game, result, or performance for either the island’s representive team or its club sides in your opinion?

Palermo finishing as runners-up in the 2010-11 Coppa Italia [losing 3-1 to Inter in the final]. The Rosanero also playing in the Europa League for 5 seasons. They are the most successful club in Sicily. Catania has one a Serie B trophy before [winning it in the 1953-54 season] and finished as high as 8th in Serie A before [most recently in the 2012-13 season]. You could say the pinnacle for Sicilian Football was back in 2006 when Messina, Palermo, and Catania were all playing in Serie A at the same time [Palermo finished in fifth position, Catania in thirteenth, and Messina bottom of the table].

Q. What are the best and worst things about being a fan of Sicilian football?

The best thing is the regional pride, and also working and collaborating with smaller clubs in lower divisions.

The frustrating part is that Sicilian football clubs, especially the big sides, need to steer away from management complacency.

Q. Do you have a favourite or iconic shirt from any of the clubs from the island?

The 2005 Messina shirt (left), 2006 Palermo shirt (centre), and 2010 Catania shirt (right)
  • The 2005 FC Messina home jersey – Classic red shirt and the yellow horizontal bar.
  • 2006 Palermo away jersey.
  • 2010 Catania jersey.

Q. Finally, what are your hopes for the future of football in Sicily?

I hope that at least Catania, Palermo, and Messina can get out of Serie C. We need at least one of them back in Serie A as soon as possible. Also, I hope to see Trapani dust off their recent bankruptcy and have another crack at the Serie A dream. I hope more organised club management comes through.

At this stage, I wouldn’t be surprised if smaller clubs like Giarre catch-up to these big Sicilian sides, and I hope more Sicilian footballers get a chance in Serie A.

A massive grazzi to Anthony from Sicilian Football for answering our questions on football on Sicily. Remember you can find his website and social media accounts in the links at the top of the blogpage.

If you have any comments, suggestions, reactions, or even your own answers to the above questions, please write them in the comments box below. Likewise, you can either email us at the94thmin@gmail.com or send a message at @The94thMin on Twitter.

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